Published: December 2013 Southern Boating
© 2013 Troy Gilbert
Only two college football stadiums nationwide had the foresight to locate next to navigable waterways and this includes the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. Since 1962, hundreds of boats known as the Volunteers’ Navy raft up on the Tennessee River for gamedays and have become part of the SEC college football spectacle and lore. A bit further south on the Gulf Coast, this intersection of football and boating also plays out in unique ways during the winter months.
While most of the country has put away their boats into dry storage or under covers to protect from snow and ice, the Gulf Coast continues to head out on the water and tailgate as college football and the NFL near their championship games .
For 79 years, the BCS Allstate Sugarbowl has incorporated a collegiate and PHRF sailing regatta into their events. In December, officials from the BCS and the Sugarbowl head out onto the warm waters of Lake Pontchartrain to assist the local Race Committee as the sailing programs from participating college football teams compete against the local Tulane, Loyola, LSU and UNO teams . While the Orange Bowl in Miami and the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles have also incorporated college sailing into their events, only New Orleans has broadened out to include PHRF and even one-design mid-winter sailing championships into their events. Incorporating local sailors and boaters into the traditions of the Sugarbowl, only builds excitement and a real connection to the game’s energy.
With the advent of satellite broadcasts and light-weight flat screen tv’s, boaters across the region have also taken to the water to provide unique tailgating parties for family and fans while their hometown team plays. These on-the-water tailgate parties offer another unique football experience for friends and guests. With the game running and stern grills churning out anything from char-broiled oysters on the halfshell to gourmet hamburgers to the fans on the settees, the only issues become how many people can you fit onboard.
After the big game, these tailgating boats head towards their local partisan waterfront restaurant or watering hole. Scores of boats docking up on gameday with team colors flying from the masts or fly bridges only add to the excitement and spectacle. Better yet can be docking up at those establishments that serve a customer base with divided team loyalties and create a friendly competition over which raft-up wins the party. Tailgating on boats is a natural on a coast that celebrates their boating and football traditions with equal passion – plus there are no traffic jams to deal with.